Friday, August 8, 2008

Today's atheistic fallacy: The straw man

Atheists love to style themselves "rational". Are they?
They posture as courageously sticking to the evidence wherever it may take them. Do they?
They decry those who believe in more than the physical world, while they claim to use their logical minds exclusively. Is that so?

Today we''ll look at a favorite tactic of atheists -- the straw man.
Long ago, boxers would take bets that a much bigger man could beat them. They rolled up their sleeves, squinted, spat and threw roundhouse punches that laid their opponents out flat, never to stand again.
Ringside gamblers would notice something yellowish poking out all over the fallen fighters: straw. They were clothes stuffed with dried grass and leaves to look like tall, strapping men, roaring to go, but there was no one there. Just dummies invented by the "winning" boxers, who ran with the cash in hand before the furious crowds could pound the money back out of them.

A straw man is such a dummy in debate, a position no one holds, and a straw man argument is one that works by knocking down a straw man: refuting what no one is saying in the first place.

A popular atheist straw man is "Christianity is the only ancient religion." They go to enormous trouble to refute this but no one said it. They try to distract the debate from the comparative merits of Christianity and other religions by posturing as teachers explaining to remedial students that there are others. We know that. We wish to talk about the differences because fact-finding is a process of distinction.

Some will knock down "Priests and preachers are perfect and have never done wrong things." Again, a straw man. No one thinks religious leaders are perfect people. We just find that they help us in valuable ways. Some are corrupt, abusive and unfit for the job. That is so in every profession. There are more child molesters per thousand men in the profession of teaching American public schools than in the priesthood many times over, and this country is hardly the only place teachers molest. But does that mean there is no truth to the multiplication table -- or even to an ethics text?

Be prepared as well to hear round denunciations of "Every word in the Bible is to be accepted literally and in every translation without reference to context or linguistic and literary traditions." Even among hardcore Bible-pounding Fundies who begin every discussion with jabs into that soft leather and a "Show me where it is in here!" you won't find that assertion. There is obviously poetry, metaphor, simile, analogy, allegory, cultural context, textual context, literary style and a little thing called an expression or several in those 73 books.

Keep an eye on your haystacks and straw bales when debating atheists, and never bet on a fight until you've shaken both men's hands.

Till next time,


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